Oracular Future Of Afghanistan


Incarceration of Bradley Manning, a US intelligence analyst in July for leaking out sensitive information on Iraq and the persecution of Julian Assange, albeit on different charge but widely believed to be the US response to Weakileaks’ barrage of information on US diplomacy embarrassing both the US administration and those who can now read their names in newspapers for candidly speaking to US diplomats in different parts of the world is not expected to change the outcome of the final situation in Afghanistan. Both Napoleon and Hitler met their Waterloo in invading Russia and the Soviet did and now the US are getting a taste of that medicine in the invasion of Afghanistan. Bush administration was not criticized for toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan, it was sanctioned by the UNSC, yet the chances of the Obama administration for an honorable exit from Afghanistan are extremely doubtful.

Wikileaks’ information on Afghanistan, as published by the Guardian in July, that Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency ISI has been covertly supporting the Taliban kicked off a political storm as the White House said the situation was “unacceptable” and described militant safe havens in Pakistan as “intolerable”. More than 180 intelligence files in the war logs detail accusations that Pakistan’s premier spy agency has been supplying, arming and training the insurgency since at least 2004. Obama administration which gives $1bn a year in military aid to Pakistan, did not challenge the veracity of the files, but said that while Islamabad was making progress against extremism, “the status quo is not acceptable”. “The safe havens for violent extremist groups within Pakistan continue to pose an intolerable threat to the United States, to Afghanistan and to the Pakistani people. The reports further revealed covert ISI plots to train legions of suicide bombers, smuggle surface-to-air missiles into Afghanistan, assassinate President Hamid Karzai and poison western beer supplies.

It is widely believed that Pak army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and ISI chief General Pasha have been directly involved in the negotiations between Hamid Karzai and some factions of the Taliban including the infamous Haqani group which is the sworn enemy of the NATO forces and is bent upon establishing Islamist rule in Afghanistan. The desire of the US and other Western powers to accommodate some Taliban in a power sharing arrangement as described in the Kabul Conference on Afghanistan is wishful thinking .German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, among others, believes that modernization of society and secularization of population go hand in hand and do not mean abdicating the religious dictates of religion. But to expect from a band of people who believe in stoning people to death and to cut off limbs for infraction of laws to be responsible member of the international community is like believing in fairy tales. Pakistan’s eagerness in the reinstatement of the Taliban in Afghanistan can be explained by the distrust of the government that relations with India can be normalized and hence Pakistan needs “strategic depth” in Afghanistan in case of an Indian attack. Given the asymmetrical military strength of Pakistan vis-à-vis India and the possibility of a limited Indian military attack if sufficiently provoked cannot be ruled out.

Wikileaks’ publication of documents mainly deal with waging the war by Bush administration that helped President Obama to send additional troops to Afghanistan because Obama has been consistent in his criticism of Bush administration’s total attention on Iraq ignoring the need for increased military strength in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. Yet the leaks have come at a time when President Obama would rather attend to the US economy while pursuing the war in Afghanistan. Public support of the administration’s handling of the war is dwindling and the Congress is getting impatient as well. As a result the drone attack by the US army in the badlands of Pakistan, allegedly the abode of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leaders, have increased with targeted killing as new US policy focus in Afghanistan aimed to help President Obama’s plan to drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan from July next year reflecting a shift of US policy on al-Qaeda and Taliban from counterinsurgency to counter terrorism. Clearly the only solution of the Afghan problem has to be political as reaffirmed by the 20th July Kabul Conference on Afghanistan.

US policy on Afghanistan is not guided by Wilsonian ideals or, as reiterated by Vice President Joe Biden, to turn the war torn country “into a Jeffersonian democracy”. In his confirmation hearing the newly appointed commander of Central Command General James Mattis bluntly stated that henceforth US strategy would emphasize on targeted killing of the terrorists. The question, however, remains about the legality of targeted killing that also includes killing of men, women and children described as “collateral damage”. One could cite My Lai massacre in Vietnam, disproportionate bombing of Laos, and a discussed policy option of nuclear bombing of Vietnam stopped by Henry Kissinger due to his acute awareness of keeping the balance of power during the Cold war as both China and Soviet Union were fighting proxy war alongside North Vietnam and Vietcong. But then even in these days of US primacy in global affairs, though power is slowly shifting its gravity from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, it is difficult for the only hyper power as it is for the rest of the international community to totally ignore the basics of international law in their conduct of international affairs. But then since the enunciation of Monroe Doctrine in 1823 many US Presidents­Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, John F Kennedy — in one form or the other had applied threat to international security and national interest of the United States as raison d’etre of supplanting international law.

A case in point was the US ignoring the verdict of the International Court of Justice that went in favor of Nicaragua where the Court ruled that US involvement in Nicaragua was “unlawful use of force”. But then the Soviet Union’s intervention in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and absorption of the Baltic States can be cited against US intervention in Panama and Granada and CIA’s help and assistance to Taliban during Soviet occupation of Afghanistan as natural conduct of then super powers during the Cold war era. If George Kennan’s containment of communism is regarded as Cold War paradigm then Western policy in Afghanistan, albeit debatable, can be termed as Huntington’s civilizational paradigm.

It is true that under President Obama multilateralism appears to have returned. Addressing the UN General Assembly last year he said that in this era global destiny was shared and power was not a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation”. Yet it is the same President Obama who said “if Pakistan cannot or will not take out al-Qaeda leadership when we have actionable intelligence about their whereabouts, we will act to protect American people. There can be no safe haven for al-Qaeda terrorist”. In short as Professor Kenneth Anderson (counter terrorism and American statutory law) writes that American domestic law has long implicitly accepted use of force including targeted killing as self defense and for the preservation of national security. Therefore Professor Michael Walzer, in the backdrop of non-state actors’ terrorism would not find many backers in his assertion that political assassins are simply murderers and should not be equated with soldiers. US Naval War College review( 22-5-07) has defined targeted killing as “the intentional killing of a specific civilian who cannot reasonably be apprehended and who is taking direct part in hostilities, the targeting is done at the direction and authorization of the state in the context of an international or non-international conflict”. But the status of the target being killed as “combatant” is crucial for the act to be legitimate according to Geneva Conventions and 1907 The Hague Regulations as in the case of the killing of Japanese Admiral Ysoroku Yamamato during the Second World War, and debatable the killing by Mossad of those involved in the Munich Olympic massacre, British SAS killing of IRA terrorists etc. But when the CIA plots of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba and failed attempts on Fidel Castro became public President Gerald Ford in 1976 through an Executive Order banned killings except in war. This could be one of the reasons of the fight against the al-Qaeda was termed as War on Terror.

In any case for preemptive self-defense article 51 of the UN Charter had to have an expansive interpretation. Regardless of the debate constancy remains on targeted killing of political leaders during war time if they become part of the command and control structure of the warring parties. Professor Louis Rene Beres( of Purdue University) argues that (a) no crime without punishment is a sacred principle of international law; (b) where known perpetrators of crimes can not be punished through normal judicial remedy ( i.e. extradition and prosecution) the criminals have to be punished extra-judicially , and assassination may be the least injurious form of such punishment; (c) the right of self defense as codified in article 51 of the UN Charter and customary right of anticipatory and pre-emptive attack could include assassination as a distinct law enforcing measure. Justification sought in assassinating foreign leaders must have the two essential invariants that they must be terrorists and their crimes can not be remedied through normal judicial process. It has been argued that the National Security Act of 1947 creating the CIA had given the Agency the so-called “Fifth Function”- to perform such duties affecting national security as directed by the President or the National Security Council. It is further argued that fewer than three conditions ­in response to an actual attack by the enemy, to defend against the enemy’s planned attack, and in response to a continuing threat- slaying of al-Qaeda figure would be permissible.

In short despite Harvard Professor Joseph Nye Jr’s exhortation for use of smart power­a mix of soft and hard power­a strong school considers soft power as a fallacy and may readily agree with many that the real problem is Islam and Obama’s olive branch extended to the great majority of moderate Muslims would come to naught. The tension between Islam and Christianity is centuries old. In recent time Bernard Lewis through his books­ The Crisis of Islam, What Went Wrong­ and Samuel Huntington through his oft quoted book The Clash of Civilization have given fresh life to anti-Muslim sentiment among the Westerners particularly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. American innocence that the greatest power on earth cannot be attacked on its own soil was shattered.

Henry Kissinger defines terrorism as assault by radical Islam on the political structure of the Islamic world but in a deeper sense on the secular structure and international structure of anything. So, Kissinger observes that there is no way to avoid the conflict with Islam by leaving Afghanistan or Iraq and war against radical Islam has to be won. The point is not to prove Kissinger and the others wrong but to point out that Islam, albeit a monotheistic religion, is not a monolith and but for a very small minority of Muslims the great majority of them are peace loving people and are not out to get the Christians. The present global trend to portray Muslims as dangerous people will only compound the error.

As revealed by Wikileaks the very fact that the Saudi King had urged the US several times to attack Iranian nuclear facilities demonstrate the fissures in the Muslim world and the fear of the Gulf States of a nuclear armed Iran. Addressing the sixth biennial Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy Indonesian President Susil Bambang Yudhoyono said that Indonesia has shown that Islam, democracy and modernity can grow together. He urged that the twenty first century need not­and must not­be a century of clash of civilizations. Jurgen Habermas rightly points out the world wide resurgence of religion is a reflection that all religions­Pentecostals and radical Muslims­are no exceptions as religious vibrancy can be discerned in Hinduism and Buddhism, and Iranian theocracy and Islamic terrorism are the most spectacular examples of potential violence innate in religion. In case of Afghanistan the US and other powers owe to the world at large that the inevitable Taliban dominance of the country along with deeply religious Pakistan are permanently kept in check so that terrorists living in those countries do not get the chance to ignite a regional conflict and cause terrorist acts in other parts of the world.

In this respect one cannot but agree with the International Crisis Group’s report (Afghanistan: Exit vs. Engagement­28-11-2010) that the international community has to ensure “that a post-withdrawal Afghanistan, at the very least, does not become the epicenter of transnational terrorism”. In the foreseeable future democratic political institutions will not grow in Afghanistan and in parts of Pakistan. The world has to acknowledge that the Western values and by extension universal values and those practiced in some parts of the Muslim world will not be similar and such incongruence is a fact of life the world has to live with.

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a former Ambassador and Secretary of Bangladesh.

Ambassador Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a former Secretary and ambassador of Bangladesh

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